With big-time bonus points at U.S. supermarkets and restaurants, the American Express® Gold Card is seemingly a card for everyone. But with a hefty $250 annual fee yet few-to-no bougie benefits like Centurion Lounge access to show for it, it sometimes feels like a card for no one.
The American Express® Gold Card has always been a bit of a conundrum when it comes to travel cards. Among its most touted perks:
4x Membership Rewards points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year).
4x Membership Rewards points at restaurants.
3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or on AmEx Travel.
A $10 monthly dining credit to select restaurants and delivery services like Shake Shack and Grubhub.
Compare that to some of the other premium travel cards out there like The Platinum Card® from American Express, which offers bigger rewards on travel, automatic hotel elite status, plus statement credits that in 2020 were worth more than the card’s annual fee. Terms apply.
Despite the money-making benefits of cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express, a 2017 Experian survey found that 54% of Americans look for no annual fee as a factor in selecting a card. It’s even less likely people would be willing to pay three-figure annual fees on two cards to try and reap benefits across multiple bonus categories.
As for the American Express® Gold Card, the $250 yearly sticker price already had the no-annual-fee crowd reaching for the barf bag. Yet for folks already paying $250 for a credit card that has a shortfall of shiny travel perks, why not pay more than twice that to get the shiny luxury benefits of a premium card like The Platinum Card® from American Express?
Why not? Because travel in 2020 is not shiny — and it likely won’t be in 2021 either.
A lot of card experts, us Nerds included, consider the American Express® Gold Card a travel card. And sure, it lacks many of the top travel benefits people want (or at least think they want). But instead, this dark-horse card has the kind of travel benefits that you might not realize are absolutely perfect in a year when you aren’t traveling like you used to.
Six reasons why the American Express® Gold Card is the best travel card when you’re not traveling
1. Big earnings rates on food spending
With the American Express® Gold Card, you’ll earn 4x Membership Rewards points at U.S. supermarkets, plus up to 4x Membership Rewards points at restaurants. Terms apply.
And if you’re no longer traveling or going out to movies and concerts, you might find yourself with more room in your "treat yourself" budget. You likely don’t have any huge weekend plans, but Friday night takeout from your favorite restaurant might be the exact thing you need to look forward to.
2. Monthly restaurant statement credits
Speaking of takeout, you could get $10 toward your meal every month. Pay with your American Express® Gold Card, and you’re entitled to up to a total of $10 in statement credits on takeout or delivery through Grubhub or Seamless, as well as on orders made with The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. Terms apply.
Travel might be on hold for the moment, but you can always get your dim sum delivered, bringing a little taste of your dream vacation to your dining room. Plus, you’ll get back $120 of value on the $250 annual fee. Terms apply.
Eligibility for this offer is limited. Enrollment is required in the Amex Offers section of your account before redeeming.
3. Uber Cash benefit
And the takeout deals still don’t stop. In 2021, American Express added a new benefit to the American Express® Gold Card: up to $120 per year in Uber Cash doled out in $10 monthly increments, which can be used toward Uber Eats or for traditional Uber rides in the U.S. This accounts for up to $120 of value.
Note that you must add the Uber app to receive the Uber Cash benefit. Terms apply.
4. Car rental loss and damage insurance
If you’ve traded plane travel for road trips (and you’re not driving your own car), charging the rental car to your American Express® Gold Card can help pay for costs if you get into an accident.
While not quite as good as the primary insurance coverage you’ll find on some other travel cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, it still offers secondary rental car coverage, meaning it’ll pick up the cost not covered by your other insurance agreements, such as applicable deductibles. Terms apply.
5. The ability to transfer points, for when you’re ready to travel again
While you can exchange your Membership Rewards points for cash, they’re typically most valuable when exchanged for travel. What’s more, the AmEx Membership Rewards program has more than 20 travel partners to transfer points to.
With this card, you can transfer to any of the program’s airline partners including Air Canada, Delta, JetBlue, British Airways, Emirates and Singapore. Or, send them to the hotel loyalty programs of either Choice Privileges, Hilton Honors or Marriott Bonvoy. Terms apply.
6. You’re not paying for superfluous travel benefits
In past years, you might have been envious of your friends toting The Platinum Card® from American Express who whizzed through airport security thanks to TSA Precheck and right into the Centurion Lounge. But this year, they paid $695 for a card that has benefits that are largely going untouched.
Sure, you might have felt a little left out in years past without the uber-luxurious benefits, but your choice worked out better this year by saving you money in annual fees. Take the same approach for 2021 and save the fancy perks for 2022.
The bottom line
Travel will come back, and when it does, you want to be ready with points to book a vacation. For now, that means you should still have some sort of travel card at your disposal. It’s just that 2020 and 2021 are the kind of years that require a travel card that’s less of a show pony and more of a workhorse.
This year, you probably have fewer frivolous expenses, and more necessary ones, like food. Let the American Express® Gold Card work for you by maximizing those expenses — and when it’s safe to travel again, you can pony up the cash for the over-the-top, $500+ travel credit card with all VIP-travel benefits, which you can experience through all the points you earned on your American Express® Gold Card.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card